Growing crops for biofuels can release GHG, scientists warn EU

Growing crops for  biofuel production can negatively impact levels of greenhouse gases. As a consequence, EU commissioners and experts should carefully pay attention to this undesired side of biofuels policies and modify them accordingly.

The European Union has put in place a target to source 10 percent of its transport fuels from renewable sources, mostly biofuels, until 2020. A group of over 150 scientists from all over the globe, though, are now claiming that growing crops for conventional biofuels can indirectly result in substantial GHG emissions through the conversion of forests and grasslands to croplands or pasture to accommodate biofuel production. The assumption is based on a large body of peer-reviewed research over the last several years.

The threat to the EU programs and targets and the need to accomodate the new findings into the 27-Countries union’s environmental policies has been made clear into a letter to the European Commission. In the letter, the scientists call for the recognition of and accounting for indirect land use change impacts as a part of the lifecycle analyses of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from biofuels.

“Without addressing land use change, the European Union’s target for renewable energy in transport may fail to deliver genuine carbon savings in the real world,” the letter states. “It could end up as merely an exercise on paper that promotes widespread deforestation and higher food price.

The EU Commission is currently working to finetuning the rules and accounting methods for calculating the indirect land use change impacts of increased biofuels production. These rules are going to play a large role in determining which biofuels will count towards the 10 percent target and qualify for financial support. With their letter, the scientists are clearly stating emissions associated with indirect land use change are too significant to be ignored in the new version of the accounting methods.

“There are uncertainties inherent in estimating the magnitude of indirect land use emissions from biofuels, but a policy that implicitly or explicitly assigns a value of zero is clearly not supported by the science,” the letter states. “All the studies of land use change indicate that the emissions related to biofuels expansion are significant and can be quite large.”


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